At my almost middle age (33 is only a few years shy of half the average age for men in Canada), I’ve learned that friends tend to be for a season, especially when we’re out of high school and people start to move, get married and have kids. Even best friends come and go depending on both of your life situations. My current best friend, Mark, almost never even became a friend. It took the hand of a wise woman to set us up… set us up as friends; he didn’t trade teams, he traded siblings. This wise woman I’m referring to is my sister and my best friend is her ex. Fun isn’t it? They dated for about two years, which is when you’d think we became friends… nope. We may have spent a handful of occasions together while they dated, so we barely knew each other. It wasn’t until they broke up that Mark and I started to hang out… her loss was my gain. Fortunately this wasn’t me saying: “Ha ha sucker I’m going to be his friend to torture my sister,” and he wasn’t using me to be close to her. If anything, I think he was originally using her to get close to me, and eventually he realized she was just in the way of our man-ship.
After my sister and Mark broke up, one major circumstance catapulted us into friendship: he almost died. Talk about a rough month. His two year committed relationship ends and then he almost dies in a motorcycle accident (on top of this the other driver, the one at fault, took off without stopping after the hit). After the accident my sister and I talked and we agreed that I would go visit him because he couldn’t leave his bed for over a month with a shattered knee. I visited a few times and then when he could Mark started going out of his way to spend time with me… the things true love are made of. Despite the accident, however, if it wasn’t for my sister I still wouldn’t have become very close with him. It took her to quietly intervene to make sure I didn’t screw things up… I screw a lot of things up.
One of my personal truths is I show love through teasing. If I care about you or want to show that I trust you, I’ll tease you. The difference between teasing and mocking is teasing is meant to bring together while mocking divides. I discuss this in my book Emotional Sex: Making Good Relationships Great. Unfortunately, some people assume I’m mocking or it feels like I’m mocking because it hits a sore spot. The few times I had hung out with Mark while he was dating my sister I had tried to show I liked him by teasing something that I thought was safe and endearing, but it turned out to be something to which he was very sensitive. He was good at hiding his feelings and I had no idea. I just kept poking at the sore spot, which I’m sure you can guess didn’t make him want to spend time with me. Fortunately, my wise sister pulled me aside and told me about how I was hurting him. Naturally I felt terrible because something I was doing to show I care was in fact doing the opposite. Fortunately, my sister could share this with me and I immediately stopped, which allowed Mark and I to start growing our friendship unhindered.
Some could accuse my sister of meddling because she went behind Mark’s back, but she was helping. What she did was dangerous for her though because if it got back to Mark she said something he would likely feel embarrassed and hurt that she said anything. Getting involved can get us in a lot of trouble. I remember one time emailing my brother’s ex-girlfriend shortly after they broke up to say I was sorry and a few other things I thought might help make her feel better. Instead she messaged my brother and used my words against him… awesome. Saying anything can be dangerous: “How could you say that?” Not saying anything can be dangerous: “Why didn’t you say something?” I, therefore, try following these steps as best I can:
1. Ask Myself: what is the most loving thing to do? And then do it. I don’t want to betray confidence and add fuel to any emotional fires, but if something goes wrong at least I can take comfort in knowing I was acting out of love.
2. Test the Waters: sometimes I may want to help, but it’s just not safe; thus, I need to gently check to see if the offending party is open to the information I have. If it’s not safe, the loving thing is to back off.
3. State Boundaries: if I say anything to someone I make it clear what they can say they know and what they are to keep quiet. This is important because sensitive information like saying you’ve hurt someone will likely lead to the hearer wanting to immediately go apologize, but this will make it known that I was involved and will get me in trouble. My sister was clear that I wasn’t allowed to say anything and that I should just stop that kind of teasing. She was right.
4. Know the Plan: if I get involved I want to know what the other person plans on doing so I can respond appropriately as well and I have the assurance that things should end up healthier and not come back to bite me.
The difference between this and meddling – a word typically used in the negative sense – is the meddler doesn’t act or doesn’t appear to act as a help and is in fact butting their nose into business where it doesn’t belong This is something parents often struggle with as their kids get older. What is too involved, enough involved and not enough involved? There is, unfortunately, no set answer; it varies between people and situations. Ultimately, whether someone is a meddler or a helper is up for interpretation. I certainly often walk a fine line when I get involved in people lives, a line that will still get me in trouble from time to time because getting involved puts a target on my back. But as a youth pastor and counselor I feel it’s my job to help relationships grow as healthy as possible; therefore, if I can help someone I will see what I can do based on what the parties seem open to.
My sister getting involved helped pave the way for me to grow one of the most beneficial and healthy relationships I’ve ever had. If getting involved changed my life, I owe it to others to be open to do the same for them… open but not forceful.
This week may you find opportunities to help others in ways that are beneficial and don’t come back to haunt you. And in your lifetime, may you find a friendship as great as the one I’ve found.